Jobless immigrants prefer to leave

Europe 13 July 2011

Immigrants swarming into the country to take our jobs and live off benefits is a clichéd image, but research shows that labour migrants leave quickly if they are out of work.

According to research on labour immigration in the Netherlands, unemployment makes people return to their home country rather than staying on for a longer period to try for new employment.

"A substantial proportion of immigrants leave the host country eventually, and many do so within 24 months," the researchers state in the ESRC Centre for Population Change briefing paper Does unemployment cause return migration?

The study, by Govert E. Bijwaard, Christian Schluter and Jackline Wahba, is part of the NORFACE (New Opportunities for Research Funding Co-operation Agency in Europe) Research Programme on Migration, and covered all labour immigrants to the Netherlands 1999-2007 – in total over 94,000 people.

The researchers divided the migrants into four categories:

  • those arriving from the so-called EU15 (the 'old' EU states)
  • the new EU (mainly Polish)
  • developed countries outside Europe
  • less developed countries.

The biggest labour immigrant group turned out to be from the UK, comprising 13 per cent of the labour migrants. Overall, 51 per cent came from the 'old EU' and 13.5 per cent from the 'new EU' states. Only 18 per cent came from developing countries.

Across all immigrant groups, unemployment shortened the duration of the migration – in other words, unemployment prompted people to return to their source country. But a return to employment delayed the return for all groups, except the migrants coming from the new EU countries.

The study also shows that the longer migrants are unemployed, the higher the chance is that they will leave, and vice versa: the longer they are re-employed, the less likely they are to leave.

"Our findings challenge the perception that labour immigrants are attracted by the generosity of the welfare state in the Netherlands since almost half of recent labour immigrants leave if they experience unemployment," conclude the researchers.

"This suggests that voluntary return schemes might be more successful if they target recent immigrants as opposed to long established ones."